I’m not going to complain about a Bears victory, but yesterday’s win left something to be desired. Maybe it was because the Bears were up 17-3 late in the first quarter and put a third touchdown on the board on a Chester Taylor run. It looked like a rout was in progress — in fact, I had entered that very same tweet into my iPhone Twitter application but didn’t hit the send button — until the call on the field was changed to down by contact at the 1-yard line and Lovie Smith’s subsequent challenge failed.
Immediately following that, Todd Collins threw a pass at the goal line intended for Devin Hester that was intercepted by defensive tackle Ed Johnson, the first of Collins’ four interceptions. The Bears came up empty on that drive and would not score for another two and a half quarters.
That was the basic makeup of the game. The Bears had a great deal of success running the football, mostly in the first quarter, but the Panthers adjusted and held the Bears offense in check for the rest of the game. The Bears added two Robbie Gould field goals late in the game to cap off the scoring.
The Bears have started every game this season with a run play, sometimes running multiple times on their first series, but it always seemed like Mike Martz was just appeasing his boss Smith because it wouldn’t take long before Martz abandoned the run altogether. It’s not as if theses games dictated that Martz change his game plans because the Bears have never been completely out of a game, save for the embarrassing onslaught last week against the Giants.
This week, though, with the offensive line reeling after giving up 10 sacks last game, and with a backup quarterback in the lineup, Martz saw the need to run the football and he stuck to that plan. Three of the Bears’ four plays on their opening drive were runs, including a beautifully called misdirection play that broke the Panthers’ containment, which Matt Forte took 18 yards for a touchdown. Johnny Knox had a good downfield block near the end zone.
Forte didn’t wait long to strike again as he scored on a 68-yard run on first down of the next possession. Tight end Brandon Manumaleuna keyed that run by paving the way off left tackle and Earl Bennett had a good block in the defensive backfield as well.
The run game cooled off considerably after that but give credit to the Bears for not abandoning it. They may have been forced to run more due to the struggles Collins endured, but they stuck with it and ran the ball 42 times for 218 yards. Not only did Forte rush 22 times for 166 yards and two scores, but Chester Taylor was also involved in the game plan and he carried the ball 18 times for 43 yards.
There wasn’t a whole lot of which to speak in the passing game. Collins completed six of 16 passes for 32 yards and four interceptions. Caleb Hanie was brought into the game following Collins’ last interception and he completed just two of three passes for 19 yards. Forte led the team with 22 yards on two receptions. Taylor and Devin Hester each added two catches and Johnny Knox and Earl Bennett caught a pass apiece.
Hester had more to do with field position due to his success on special teams. He returned a punt down the sideline for 50 yards late in the first quarter, nearly breaking it for his second return touchdown in three weeks until being pushed out of bounds by the punter. Jason Baker spent the rest of the day kicking away from Hester — out of bounds — sometimes sacrificing depth and field position on his kicks.
As long as we’re talking about returns, major credit goes out to the best kick returner in the NFL, Danieal Manning. Manning runs with a mean streak and like a runaway freight train. He fields the ball, sometimes deep in the end zone, and has no fear taking it out. He immediately runs up the field and doesn’t spend time going laterally across the field. He nearly always gets to the 20-yard line, so that’s why it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t take a knee in the end zone. I know I wouldn’t want to get in front of a guy who runs like Manning does. He’s an invaluable piece to the puzzle and he had three kickoff returns against the Panthers while averaging 44 yards per return with a long of 62 yards. That’s unbelievable.
Defensively, the Bears played a solid game. They gave up a few big runs on the Panthers’ first possession of the game, but they tightened things up after that and held the Panthers’ dynamic run game to just 85 rushing yards. The Bears were stout against the pass, too, as rookie Jimmy Clausen couldn’t hit a brick wall from 10 yards away if he were standing by himself on an empty field. Clausen completed just nine of 22 passes for 61 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception. The Panthers brought in Matt Moore late in the game and he completed five of 10 passes for 35 yards and was picked off two times. The Panthers failed to reach the end zone and managed just two field goals.
Not enough can be said about defensive end Julius Peppers and the impact he’s had on this defense all season. He had a nice game in his return to his home state with four tackles and a pretty interception. He tipped a Clausen pass high into the air and fell to one knee. He showed good awareness to locate the ball in the air and then dive to catch it before it hit the ground.
Chris Harris is another former Panther who had a good return game. He tied for the team lead with seven tackles. Frank Omiyale, the third former Panther, did not have as great a game. He did pave the way for Forte in the run game, so credit is due to him there, but he was also flagged for a false start and a holding penalty that nullified a 12-yard completion from Hanie to Forte.
Perhaps the defender who played the best game was Israel Idonije. He shared time with rookie Corey Wootton this week instead of the recently cut Mark Anderson, but he still had an effective game playing opposite Peppers. He recorded three sacks and shared the team lead with Harris with seven tackles. He also forced a fumble on one of his sacks.
The Bears will now welcome the Seahawks to Soldier Field next week in a certainly winnable game. The Seahawks aren’t a pushover, though. They’re a young, hungry team that’s capable of surprising a team any given week. They knocked off the Chargers a few weeks ago. They also lost badly to the Rams, so they’re an erratic team. They recently acquired running back Marshawn Lynch from the Bills and they’ve had two weeks to prepare for the Bears because they had a bye this week.
Still, the Bears should conceivably win this game and advance to 5-1 before a big matchup with the Redskins before their bye week. One game at a time, though, because as we saw in the second and third quarters against the Panthers, the Bears are not a good enough team to overlook anybody, even with a healthy Jay Cutler in the lineup.